Civil society has called on Zimbabwe’s government to take practical action towards ending early child marriages.
This was the main resolution made by AU Goodwill Ambassador for Child Rights Nyaradzai Gumbonzvanda together with other civic organisations that attended a meeting held in Harare last week. This is the first public meeting Gumbonzvanda has held in Africa since her appointment in May as Goodwill Ambassador.
“As Zimbabwe, let’s develop a national plan of action against child marriage and let’s unpack poverty to find out what it is we need to address,” she said at the meeting organised byPlan International ahead of the ongoing Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) Summit being held in Victoria Falls .
The purpose of the meeting was for Gumbonzvanda to gather recommendations from organisations championing child rights in the country which she took forward to the SADC People’s Summit which was held in Bulawayo.
A survey carried out by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) in 2012, revealed that 31% of women in Zimbabwe get married before the legal age of 18, placing Zimbabwe among the 41 countries with the highest statistics on early child marriages.
Globally, figures of early child marriages show that 39 000 girls are married off daily and 14 million annually, with Africa recording the highest numbers – statistics which Gumbonzvanda referred to in her remarks.
“Girls are pushed towards marriage by poverty, yet Africa is the richest continent,” said Gumbonzvanda. “They have no access to their own resources, thus they resort to marriage at an early age for survival.”
She called on the government, civil society and the general public to avail economic opportunities to girls in order to curb rates of child marriages.
Nyaradzo Mashayamombe, Director of Tag a Life International (TaLI) added that all civic organisations against early child marriages should pool their resources to achieve a common goal, which is the elimination of early marriages.
“We can overcome the problems if we all work together as civic organisations,” Mashayamombe said.
At the same time, Gumbonzvanda castigated the terming of child sexual abuse as ‘marriage’.
“We need to be articulate about the type of abuse that the victims are going through, let us term it sexual abuse or rape, rather than marriage, because when we call it marriage, we seem to be accepting the situation”, she said.
Several organisations present agreed that the following resolutions should reach the policy-making table:
Translating the law into action,
– Training the police force on how to deal both with victims and perpetrators,
– Allocating adequate resources to the cause,
– Providing practical opportunities and options for girls rather than marriage,
– Engaging the media in the campaign against early child marriages,
– Publicising the names of men responsible for marrying young girls, and holding them accountable,
– Revisiting constitutional contradictions that make the prosecution of perpetrators difficult
During the SADC Summit, Gumbonzvanda presented these recommendations and urged regional leaders to provide practical solutions that will put an end to early child marriages.
Plan International has been running a campaign titled ‘Because I am a girl’, which aims to reach 4 million girls directly by improving their lives with access to school, skills, livelihoods and protection.Other organisations that have joined the fight against early child marriages include Real Opportunities for Transformation Support (ROOTS), which recently launched a campaign under the name “Not Ripe for Marriage”, TaLI and Katswe Sistahood.
In May this year, the African Union (AU) launched a campaign to end child marriage. The two-year campaign, organised in partnership with United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) and United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund UNFPA, aims to end child marriage by taking appropriate legal, social and economic action.
Photo courtesy Fungai Machirori.